Trinidad and Tobago


To catch a thief

March 14, 2001

DON'T look in my direction for sympathy if you’re campaigning on behalf of Ann Marie Halls, the little thief who recently lost her right hand to a booby trap during an attempt to rip off a neighbour’s property.

It never struck me to feel sorry for the interloper, even after a valiant attempt by doctors at re-attaching the hand was biologically rejected and she again lost her grip, this time through medical amputation.

Nor is there anything to be gained from facing me directly when speaking on this matter, if you, too, have taken the position that Brent Halls, the burglarised neighbour, was excessive in his use of force to thwart housebreakers.

That Ann Marie “Sharlene” Halls smashed a kitchen window at Brent’s home in broad daylight and proceeded to enter his house unlawfully on March 3 is not in dispute. Before the incident, Brent and Sharlene had no blood connection.

Evidently, Sharlene was not on a benign mission that day, or she would have approached the house in normal fashion.

Inventive Guillotine

Brent, who grew tired of having his home burglarised and was getting no positive results from reporting such episodes to police, set up an inventive guillotine to snare intruders.

The trap worked. Her hand was cut off and a chop inflicted on her forehead by a single swipe of a spring-loaded cutlass.

Brent, 38, works and puts his earnings to commendable use. Pen portraits paint him as a genteel person, who doesn’t even use obscene language and is simultaneously learning the violin and piano.

He also buys things he needs and treasures them, only to find that every so often, some person with no investment in those items, simply broaches his home and spirits them away.

Brent lives in an area where police routinely hear housebreaking stories and just as frequently fail to provide victims with tangible relief. Three times he has reported his break-ins to the authorities, the most recent incident being last December, when a $3,559 television set was stolen.

None of the crimes have been solved. Frustrated by his continuing plight, Brent invents and installs a series of booby traps to catch a thief.

Now, here is a girl next door, 17, who waits until the man described above goes to work, smashes his kitchen window and (although one version tries to elicit sympathy by suggesting she was looking for food) attempts to get into his bedroom, where the guillotine is located. It works.

“Poor girl?”

For openers, let us reverse the sexes of the incident’s major players and see whether any thought of sympathy for the perpetrator would have arisen.

In fact, a male intruder would more than likely have been branded a rapist, even if he, too, was simply foraging for food in a place as unlikely as the bedroom.

Quite astonishingly, it now seems that Brent is under another attack, this time from his neighbours, some of whom are actually demanding he move out of the area, arguing his traps constitute a menace to other residents. None among them mentioned “Thou shall not steal” or “Thou shall not covet they neighbour’s things.”

And while a public besieged by criminal activity is squarely on Brent’s side, the Director of Public Prosecutions is yet to decide whether Brent can be charged with any crime. Not that I wish to influence his discoveries, but if they indicate that Brent might be facing the courts, the public is not likely to applaud such diligence.

Of course, as in any self-defence argument, there is the question of degree.

Some argue he went too far, by constructing a device that could kill.

Neighbours reported on television he even booby-trapped his unfenced yard with upturned nails hidden in the grass and he admitted placing fishhooks on his coconut trees.

Indeed, by merely wandering onto his property, innocent children can be maimed.

But what would make so nice a fellow do such dastardly things? What were his alternatives? Certainly not the formation of a neighbourhood watch group, when the very neighbours are prime suspects in the burglaries?

Forgiving those who trespass against us does not, to my mind, embrace Brent’s situation. So there is no window for sympathy with Sharlene’s current condition, except the fact that at age 17, she is the mother of a 14-month old baby, which suggests that some man somewhere got away with statutory rape.

Perhaps, while she is lying in hospital under police guard which, like her cosmetic surgery and intensive care are at taxpayers’ expense, detectives should try and set another kind of example to men who help bring the Sharlenes of this world to such early ruin.

But me? Sorry? Nah!


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